HC Deb 12 December 1991 vol 200 cc1005-46

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House at its rising on Friday 20th December do adjourn until Monday 13th January 1992.—[Mr. MacGregor.]

4.15 pm
Sir John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)

The theme of my speech is the grievous shortage of officers in all walks of life in this country—except, of course, in the armed forces of the Crown—and, more generally, to consider the state of the nation after the settlement reached at Maastricht, to enumerate the good and bad points of our institutions and our society, and to try to find out where remedies can put things right.

Constant visits to Europe over many years have made me realise more and more how different England is from nations on the continent. We are an island, unconquered for 900 years, and we still look to the great sea routes of the world, and to our cousins in America, as well as to our close neighbours on the continent.

Our whole history and background are different from those of most continental countries. We have had, on the whole, a long and peaceful history here. We have not had the appalling revolutions or wars which have so disfigured continental nations. We much value our Houses of Parliament, in contrast with the low esteem in which continental assemblies are often held. Not only our constitution but our laws are different from those of other nations. We have not had a Code Napoleon.

Until recently, we had a hierarchical and conservative society, with the great lords living on their estates—not at court in Versailles, as they were in France—and the small squires running the villages where they knew the people and their way of life intimately.

We have had few riots in this country, and no fighting for hundreds of years. In short, we are a quiet, kind, politically mature people who have learned over the centuries to live together. We are proud of our history and our traditions; our monarchy is greatly beloved.

In my view, our best institutions are the armed forces of the Crown. The Navy and the Army, of course, are very old, and the Royal Air Force, although founded only in 1918, has fully carried on their ideals. The hallmarks of the armed services of the Crown are chivalry, truthfulness, honesty, integrity and loyalty. Those are not always found in other occupations. The armed forces perform magnificently whenever called upon to do so, and when their members retire they are highly respected in civilian society.

As we all know, the forces consist of officers, non-commissioned officers and other ranks. Those clearly separate roles are not usually found in other organisations —sometimes I wish that they were. We instantly know what the rank stands for. We know where we are, and we are never let down. Unfortunately, we do not always find such high standards in the other great institutions of the state or in the main professions.

We in this House should hold to the highest standards ourselves, and try to keep others up to the mark.

Most of the nation spends several hours a day looking at television screens and reading newspapers. How degrading the tabloid press has become. On television, the swearing and sexual licence is unacceptable. In the tabloid press, the emphasis on sex and sexual misbehaviour is nauseating. Unfortunately, the Church of England, that great institution established by law, fails to reprove those tendencies and even appears unable to control homosexuality among its own clergy. The bishops no longer, alas, have the respect that they used to have and the Church seems to fail to recruit the best men in the land for its clergy.

We find a further tragedy with education. Over the past generation, so-called progressive methods of teaching have meant that many children now leave school being unble to read, to write or to do simple arithmetic. Those responsible were sinning against the light and it will take another generation to get things right.

In the old days, Oxford and Cambridge and our great universities were admired throughout the world. It is a mistake to try now to increase the number of university students and to pretend that the polytechnics, which have a different, but most vital, role to play, are the same as universities.

The public schools have maintained their standards and are still a nursery of leaders. It would be far better if we were to increase the number of our public schools, even with the assistance of some taxpayers' money, rather than to continue to produce what some people fear are half-baked intellectuals in enlarged universities. We should also extend the assisted places scheme which has been so successful.

The amount of crime, especially violent crime, is a blot on our society. Responsibility for that must lie to a great extent with how young people are brought up. Parents, teachers and clergy bear a heavy responsibility.

There was less dishonesty in high places when I was a young man and virtually none in the City of London. Unfortunately, the Maxwell case is only one of a long line in recent years of crime on a massive scale in financial circles.

We constantly find examples of poor management in some of our largest institutions. The banks, which seem to lend millions of pounds to doubtful Governments in South America, to property companies and, I am afraid to say, to corrupt financiers, often seem rude and unhelpful to ordinary customers who badly need the money to help them to carry on their businesses.

British Rail, the Post Office and the management of the health service—not the doctors and nurses—are of varying quality. If anything goes wrong in British Rail or in the Post Office, it is unusual to see anyone about above the rank of lance-corporal.

My solution to all those problems is to try to educate, to train and to recruit more officers and leaders, as in the armed services, who can take charge in almost every walk of life. We should also cherish the House of Lords, especially the younger Lords who are coming on. The Lords are independent and highly respected, and always possess the most perfect manners.

We need better men in British industry if we are to compete on level terms with Germany, with the United States and with Japan. A career in industry should be as much respected as a career in the City.

We all know that the police face appalling challenges today. I am glad that they are highly paid, and they deserve all our sympathy and support. However, what is lacking, as I have said so often, is an officer class. The Home Office should insist on the refounding of the Hendon police college as it was under Lord Trenchard where officers were recruited and trained for leadership and the highest positions.

We know from recent opinion polls that English people are still highly patriotic and that many more here in these islands are prepared to die for their country than is the case on the continent of Europe.

That deep, abiding patriotism is still found among the mass of the working people. The middle class, of which most of the country is now composed, still keeps high standards in that respect. However, it now unfortunately includes a number of over-educated intellectuals who believe in nothing and wish to destroy all that we hold most dear.

One can have too much democracy. We are not all equal in our abilities. We must pay more attention to finding and choosing those who will become our leaders. The old grammar schools did the job so well—as well as the public schools—until, alas, they were abolished. Let us hope that some grammar schools can now be re-established.

When educating and training our leaders in society, we must ask what is our national purpose. What are we aiming at in our daily lives? We are a mature people, as I said earlier. Sometimes we are inclined to be lazy, but we are capable of great exertions in times of crisis. We now live in a highly competitive world. We must be as good at business as our competitors on the continent and elsewhere.

Of course we must defend the nation properly and keep law and order. We must maintain moral standards and ensure that our children are properly educated. It is important that in every walk of life we should articulate where we are going and where we are trying to go.

I learnt some of those principles as a young officer serving under General Montgomery both on the staff and in the field. We all knew what the object was and what we had to do. Above all, everyone was put in the picture.

In an organisation it is the people who matter most. Their performance can be improved enormously by proper training, example and leadership. As a people, in spite of the faults that I have enumerated, I believe that we have great talents. We must not hesitate to build on them. Therefore, after Maastricht I believe that our country, with all its experience and history and achievements, still has a great deal to give Europe and the world.

4.26 pm
Mr. Don Dixon (Jarrow)

I appreciate, as no doubt you, Mr. Speaker, appreciate as a former Deputy Chief Whip, the strictures that that places on hon. Members who hold that position. However, I am so concerned about a safety problem in my constituency that I want to intervene briefly in this debate. I have put myself on the Standing Committee of the Transport and Works Bill and I will speak on the matter in more detail there.

I want to draw to the attention of the House a very dangerous situation in relation to a railway crossing in my constituency. The railway crossing is an unmanned crossing at Newton Garths on the main Newcastle to Sunderland line which runs through my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark).

The crossing is located between two large housing estates—the Biddick Hall housing estate and Boldon Colliery estate. There are fields beside the crossing in which horses graze. As we know, children are often tempted to play near horses and feed them. On 14 May 1990, a seven-year-old girl called Lisa Mohamed was killed on the crossing. She had spent the day with her great-aunt and her younger brother. She had played in the field and walked along the road to the crossing.

Anyone who knows anything about crossings will be aware that the tracks on a vehicular crossing are recessed into timber to allow vehicles to cross the track. The young girl walked along the road believing that she was crossing the field on her way to feed the horses. Unfortunately, she was killed on the track by a train which came around the curve.

The crossing is particularly dangerous because the secondary school on the Biddick Hall estate has been closed and many of the children on that estate must cross to the Boldon Colliery secondary school. That unmanned crossing has become an unauthorised short cut for some children.

The crossing is about one mile from the signalman's cabin, and it is not visible because of the curve in the rail line. Therefore, no one can supervise the gate and crossing procedures. More than 120 high-speed trains pass over that crossing daily, at approximately 65 mph. I have visited the crossing several times, along with Lisa's father, Philip Mohamed, and one of our ward councillors, Councillor Mrs. Wagott. She is a new councillor, but she is capable and competent, and she has taken an interest in that dangerous crossing.

The crossing has been and is plagued by vandals. Warning signs and telephones have been ripped out. Despite repeated warnings, children still use the crossing as a short cut. The crossing is used to service what used to be Harrison farm, and it is used by vehicles and by people riding horses. At times, the gate is tied back and not closed. It takes only one person to leave the gate open, and safety at the crossing goes out of the window.

Several letters have passed between myself and various Ministers at the Department of Transport and between me and the local authority. Ministers, the local authority and everybody on the estate have agreed that the crossing should be closed and are trying to find an alternative route into the farm. However, until it is closed, someone from British Rail should man that crossing.

What appalled me and led me to intervene in this Adjournment debate was a statement by a chap named Brian Ward, who is supposed to be a British Rail regional spokesman. Since Lisa died, her father Philip Mohamed has fought a campaign to have the crossing closed. I have been supporting his campaign. Philip Mohamed, like most people in our area, which has high unemployment, must work away. When Lisa was killed, he was working on an oil rig in the middle of the North sea. His wife has had health problems ever since—her nerves have suffered, as any parent can imagine.

On Friday 29 November, when I went to my constituency, I obtained a copy of the local paper, the Gazette. According to that paper, British Rail has decided that it should blame Lisa's parents for her death. That character, Brian Ward—I do not know who he is; he is some pinstriped moron who works in a British Rail heated office—said: We find that Mr. Mohamed has rarely, if ever, publicly expressed any concern for the train crew involved in his daughter's death … We have no real wish to attack Mr. Mohamed or his family. He felt that Mr. and Mrs. Mohamed were to blame because of lack of supervision. That is an insensitive and scurrilous attack on loving parents who lost a seven-year-old daughter.

An editorial in the Gazette stated: British Rail's outburst against grieving South Shields father Philip Mohamed is astonishing in its insensitivity. Following the tragic death of his seven-year-old daughter eighteen months ago, Mr. Mohamed has waged a ceaseless campaign to get the railway crossing where she was killed closed down. Any parent would join him in his campaign. He will not fetch Lisa back, but he did not want other parents to suffer the sadness that he and his wife have suffered since Lisa's death.

The article continues: Yet BR are adding to the heartbreak of the Mohamed family by blaming 'those who failed to supervise his daughter' for the tragedy. Such a vitriolic attack does BR no credit whatsoever … Now they criticise him for 'failing to show concern for the train crew involved in her death'. This statement is almost breathtaking in its tactlessness. Only those unfortunate parents who have lost a child can know the suffering involved. After that scurrilous article by Brian Ward appeared in the newspaper, Mr. Mohamed, the young father who lost his seven-year-old daughter while working in the middle of the North sea, stated: British Rail have attacked me and my family. I was at work in the middle of the North Sea on the day she died. Lisa was on a visit to my aunt for the day. At the time of the incident my aunt was in her front garden along with several other adults, and in front of her house is a large field surrounded by houses and a school. There is virtually no traffic, only the occasional car going past to a nearby farm. My aunt has brought up a large family in that home for over 12 years and her children along with neighbouring kids have played on the field for many years without incident. No one thought for a moment Lisa could without instruction or hindrance walk straight on the main Newcastle to Sunderland line after seeing horses on the other field. That is precisely what happened.

Following that outburst from British Rail's so-called "public relations officer", I found on my return to the constituency last weekend that the Gazette had reported that a lorry had been hit by a train at the very spot on the crossing where Lisa was killed 18 months ago. The newspaper reported that the lorry driver, Andrew Atkinson, 25, narrowly cheated death when the 12.30 pm Sunderland to Newcastle train demolished the back of his lorry. I repeat that that happened on the very same crossing on which a young girl was killed, yet British Rail had the effrontery to blame her parents for not supervising their child. It is a dangerous crossing.

I ask British Rail to make a public apology to Mr. and Mrs. Mohamed for its outburst. I also call for the sacking of Mr. Brian Ward. Perhaps he should be sent to work on the North sea oil rigs where he could perhaps do the job that Philip Mohamed had to give up so that he could look after his ill wife following their daughter's death. I hope also that the Minister for Public Transport will disassociate himself from British Rail's remarks. I apologise to the House for having to speak in this Adjournment debate, but I was so appalled by British Rail's attack on parents who had lost their seven-year-old daughter that I felt that it was my duty to do so.

4.37 pm
Mr. James Kilfedder (North Down)

Last Saturday, I had the pleasure of calling on a new constituent, Mrs. Noreen Hill, at her new home in Holywood in my constituency. However, that visit was tinged with sadness because, as some hon. Members will recall, Mrs. Hill's husband, Ronnie, a former school headmaster, has been in a coma for over four years since being seriously injured in the notorious IRA terrorist explosion at the remembrance day service in Enniskillen in 1987.

I was deeply moved by Mrs. Hill's quiet courage, dignity and total commitment to the loving care of her husband. She prays as we all do, that Ronnie will one day come out of his coma. To that end, she constantly talks to him in the belief that he understands what she says and that it will eventually help his recovery. I am sure that, like me, all hon. Members admire that wonderful couple and I pray that Noreen Hill's hopes will be realised.

However, I compare the tremendous service that Ronnie Hill gave to the community of Enniskillen, especially as a headmaster, and the love, care and dedication of Noreen Hill, with the ruthless, merciless and cowardly behaviour of the IRA which caused that explosion and so many of the atrocities in Northern Ireland during the past 20 years and more.

The police have warned the people of Ulster that they face increased atrocities from the terrorists during the Christmas season. Is it not ironic that, when goodly people, prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ and provide a memorable and happy time for their children, evil men lurk in the dark recesses of Northern Ireland and, indeed, mainland Great Britain, planning death, mutilation and destruction?

The massive 1,000 lb IRA van bomb which caused such grievous injuries and havoc last week in Belfast could easily have caused widespread carnage. Indeed, it was a miracle that no one died in that explosion, but the IRA demonstrated what, of course, we have known for years. It demonstrated by that bomb outrage that it was at war even with little children, because it badly damaged the opera house where a Christmas pantomime "Babes in the Wood" was being rehearsed, to which many families and their children were looking forward with infinite delight.

The IRA wishes to destroy the economy of Northern Ireland. I pay tribute to the spirit of the business men of the Province who, never daunted, though often depressed, reopen as soon as possible after their premises are damaged by IRA bombs or incendiary devices. Previously, grants were provided by the Government so that the firms could pay for security guards at the premises. It is time for the Government to reintroduce financial assistance. The money would be well spent. It could certainly save businesses hundreds of thousands of pounds.

I am deeply worried about the number of unemployed in my constituency of North Down and the lack of sufficient vacancies, especially for school leavers and graduates. I have complained in the past to the Minister responsible in Northern Ireland that the North Down area benefits least from Government help, because most effort is concentrated in the west and south of the Province.

Therefore, I appeal to the Government to attract more inward investment to my constituency. I urge the Government to get the unemployment in the North Down area off the dole queues. I urge them to give hope and help to our young people. I have met many young people in my constituency who are out of a job. It is difficult to explain the position to them. They are disheartened, and I do not blame them. They are disenchanted, and I fully understand that. That is why I believe that we must help our most prized possessions in Northern Ireland—our young people. I make that appeal strongly and fervently to the Government tonight.

I appeal for adequate recreational facilities for children and young people in my constituency. For instance, they see the vast concrete marina in Bangor, which has cost millions of pounds and has row upon row of expensive yachts beyond the reach of the vast majority of people in the area. Indeed, many of the yachts belong to people from outside the area. The young people feel—in my opinion. rightly—that they are victims of economic discrimination. As no recreational facilities, or only inadequate facilities, are provided in their separate areas, either in Bangor, Holywood, Conlig or Dundonald, they feel that others are benefiting and they are losing.

I refer in particular to places in Bangor such as Kilcooley, Whitehill and Bloomfield. I also think of Holywood, which is in need of better recreational facilities. Young children in Conlig have asked through me for playgrounds for many years. Other areas also suffer a lack of such facilities.

In this season of good will, when we concentrate our intentions on young people, the Government should bear in mind their needs and the fact that, if facilities are not provided, it is all too easy for young people to go astray. It would be money well invested to provide recreational facilities. I hope that the Government will listen to and heed my appeal.

4.44 pm
Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

There are two very important issues I want briefly to raise before the House is asked to approve the motion. Both are of urgent public concern and affect the interests of people whose claims to the attention of this House are of undoubted priority. They are issues about which there ought at least to be ministerial statements before we rise for the recess.

I turn first to the issue of homelessness this Christmas, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) referred in his business question. Everyone expects there to be more people sleeping rough this year than at any other Christmas in the post-war years. As the Leader of the House may be aware, I have for many years been a trustee of Crisis, still perhaps more widely known as Crisis at Christmas. The deep social concern of all who work for the charity, in whose splendid achievements Lady Macleod can take especial pride, is well appreciated on both sides of the House. My own approach to the challenge of homelessness is very much informed by their work. Crisis recognises that homeless people are to he found not only in London and gives vitally important help to voluntary organisations which work to reduce the suffering that homelessness causes in many parts of Britain.

By contrast, the Government are widely accused of ignoring the claims of homeless people outside the capital. I quote a recent letter sent to me by Shelter. Simon Keyes, its director of housing services, said: The Housing Minister has announced some provision for people sleeping rough in London this winter but has, once again, limited the scope of this provision to London only. This is despite evidence from Shelter's report … on the 'big freeze' last February and the recent official census data showing that the majority of people sleeping rough are outside London. Sixty per cent. of those counted in the census were outside the capital. That is very strong criticism, well justified by the facts, and Shelter is right to call on the Government to extend to the rest of Britain the full range of initiatives being undertaken in London. After all, homelessness is no less calamitous for people living elsewhere in Britain than it is in London, especially at this time of the year. Nor can Ministers be unaware of its cost in human terms.

Ministers must know that last year, in Manchester alone, there were five recorded cases of people dying from sleeping out during the winter. Their deaths in my native city naturally cause me very deep concern. Yet Manchester is not alone in the north-west it its difficulties in trying to cope with the worst-ever homelessness crisis. There, as elsewhere, the rising tide of repossessions by building societies is an ever more worrying factor.

Council-owned hostels in Bury are authoritatively reported to be almost full and bed-and-breakfast accommodation may have to be found by next Wednesday for families there who face repossession of their homes. At present only 91 council properties are vacant. Most of them are unsuitable for living in, owing to vandalism, fire damage, dilapidation or the fact that they are too small for families.

The situation is set to worsen soon, and Joseph Robinson, the council's assistant housing director, said last week: This is the worst situation our staff can recall. At the same time, the housing chairman said: We are in desperate circumstances. We have only one vacancy in our temporary hostels and nine families are due to have their homes repossessed by 18 December. He went on: It's not helped by the fact that we are having to sell 300 council homes every year, but are unable to spend the money on building new ones. I hope that the Leader of the House will accept that we must have a ministerial statement on this issue before the House rises for the Christmas recess. He may have seen Tim Rayment's reports in The Sunday Times about homelessness this Christmas, with their emphasis not only on London but on giving the national picture. His reports bear moving testimony to the priority of the claims of a huge number of our fellow citizens who, without very urgent help, will have to spend Christmas on the streets in localities all over Britain.

The second issue I wish to raise concerns severely disabled people whose well-being and often whose personal freedom and safety depend heavily on the availability of services to which they are entitled under the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970. At Question Time on 3 December I raised from the Opposition Front Bench a number of crucial questions about the difficulties that more and more disabled people now experience in trying to secure and/or retain the services to which the Act entitles them. I asked the Minister for Health: How many disabled people, after being assessed for services under the … Act …, are now on waiting lists for the help that they need … how many local authorities at the latest date for which figures are available, had reduced or removed services in cases where there was no diminution in the disabled person's needs". I also asked the Minister to comment on a case, of which I had informed the Secretary of State for Health where home help provision was withdrawn from an elderly couple both of whom are severely and progressively disabled?"—[Official Report 3 December 1991; Vol. 200, c. 138.] Not one of my questions was answered by the Minister. I shall be grateful, therefore, if the Leader of the House will obtain the answers for me before the motion is approved.

Before he does so, I must tell the House that the legal advice given to me, when I was Minister for the Disabled, was that it was unlawful to keep disabled people who have been assessed for services on waiting lists for them. I was also unequivocally advised—as I know all my successors as Minister for the Disabled have been—that it was unlawful to reduce or withdraw a service provided under the Act unless the disabled person's need for it had diminished. Yet in the case about which I questioned the Minister for Health, on 3 December, home help provision was withdrawn from an elderly and severely and progressively disabled couple whose nearest relative lived over 180 miles away in Manchester.

They are not alone in having their legal rights trampled on. Arthritis Care and the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation said in a recent statement that such cases could be found all over Britain and that widespread distress has been and continues to be caused among disabled people. In a letter that I received from the Minister for Health before I questioned her in the House, she said, without any suggestion of criticism, that some local authorities had now withdrawn cleaning-only home help services altogether. If so, then ipso facto such services are no longer available to any disabled person in their areas, irrespective of need and the requirements of the law.

That is a very serious matter indeed, about which there should not only be a statement to the House before the recess, but urgent ministerial action to end all misconceptions about the legal duties imposed by the Act. On behalf of many national organisations of and for disabled people, I implore the right hon. Gentleman to make a positive response to my plea to him to play his part in ending what their members see as law-breaking on an increasingly wide scale.

In pressing the right hon. Gentleman to help, I emphasise that about 50 per cent. of the homeless in Britain this Christmas are expected to be disabled people, most of whom sleep rough due to the yawning gap between promise and performance in the Government's approach to community care. Thus, the two issues that I have raised are linked. Shelter says that there was a 92 per cent. increase in the number of homeless disabled people between 1980 and 1988, and the number has undoubtedly risen since then. That is sombre further proof of the need for a humane response from the Government before this debate concludes.

4.55 pm
Sir Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)

In eight days' time, the House will rise for the three-week Christmas recess. I have no doubt that we are all looking forward to that event, a time for rest, a time to be at home with our families, a very special time when we talk of good will towards all men and hope that the happiness to which we look forward will be shared by others.

However, I suspect that for 28 people at least—those who remain of the 50 or so people who received blood transfusions contaminated with the HIV virus from the national health service between 1982 and October 1985—Christmas will be overshadowed by the deadly nature of the virus and its awful consequences—its life-shortening consequences if it becomes AIDS. Now, of course, blood donations are screened to prevent such contamination happening again, but for those poor 28 people, unlike the 1,200 haemophiliacs who got the HIV virus from contaminated samples of the factor 8 blood product, no Macfarlane Trust exists for them, nor for those 22 who have already died from AIDS as a result of the virus, nor for their dependents.

It is right to ask why that should be the case. According to a letter that I received from the Under-Secretary of State for Health in the other place, Baroness Hooper, on 19 October 1991, the Government decided to make special provision for HIV infected haemophiliacs because we accepted that they were a very special case. The haemophiliacs were doubly disadvantaged by their hereditary condition, which was compounded by the onset of HIV. The position of those others infected with HIV through blood transfusions is more difficult, since the Government does not consider that their case is different in principle from that of others seriously harmed through medical accident. So the Minister seems to acknowledge that those people have been seriously harmed through a medical accident derived from their treatment at the hands of the NHS, but the Minister goes on to say that it was nobody's fault—and anyway, that the haemophiliacs got compensation because they were haemophiliacs, not simply because they had been given contaminated factor 8.

It is almost the identical defence originally submitted by the Department of Health when it first refused to pay compensation to haemophiliacs. Effectively, it said, "If you can prove we were negligent, we will pay. If not, you get nothing." Legally, I recognise that that is strong ground, because proving negligence is an expensive and long drawn-out process, perhaps taking six to seven years, and how many of those 28 people who are still alive and who had contaminated blood transfusions will be alive that far ahead?

There is another dimension to those cases in terms of what any of us expects from treatment under the NHS. Surely we expect to be made well or better than we were when we went for treatment. Also, I know of no patient who tells his doctor what treatment he should or should not receive. I know of no patient who has ever told his doctor that he needs a blood transfusion. The decision about the treatment is one for the medical staff. The patient does as he or she is told.

I do not complain about that—the doctor has the experience—but, if we place our lives in the hands of medical men, we presume that the course of treatment they prescribe will make us better, not give us a viral infection from which we will die. That is implicit in the contract, unwritten though it may be, between patient and doctor. It adds up to a moral obligation which the service takes on when it describes itself as the national health service. Of course, the chance of our being made well depends on what we are suffering from when we enter hospital, but few, if any, of us expect to die from the treatment that we are given. Yet that is what is happening to the haemophiliacs and to those who have had tainted blood transfusions.

Those people are now living in the twilight existence outlined to me by a haemophiliac constituent who had received contaminated factor 8. He asked me to go and see him at night so that his neighbour would not ask why the Member of Parliament was visiting him. He told me how fearful he was that his children's friends might find out about his condition and refuse to come to the house or to continue to be his children's friends.

He told me of his financial worries for his wife and his family if he could no longer work and if he subsequently died from AIDS; about the problem of keeping up mortgage payments that pressed on his mind; about the impossibility of obtaining any insurance and about that permanent worry as to whether his HIV positive condition would in the course of time turn to full-blown AIDS. Lastly, he explained that because of what had happened to him he had ceased to have any sexual relationship with his wife owing to the risk of infecting her. Effectively, that side of his marriage is over—as, probably, is his life.

Thank goodness, the Government softened their attitude and their heart towards the haemophiliacs and gave them a sum, through the Macfarlane Trust, which relieved the financial worries of people like my constituent; they gave a sum of £42 million. If they can give it to that group, why not to this much smaller group of transfusion-damaged people? All the problems that apply to the haemophiliacs apply equally to them, and to give all 50 the same compensation would cost only £1,750,000.

I find the Department's argument that haemophiliacs are a very special case a very difficult one to follow. All these people are human beings. They have been given this dreadful virus, not because they asked for it, but because of something that happened within the Department. The same faith in the NHS that persuaded the haemophiliac to accept factor 8 from the NHS persuaded the 50 to accept blood transfusions from the NHS. But for the grace of God, I might have been one of them. I was receiving blood transfusions at that time from the NHS because of kidney failure. That is why I stand in the House tonight conscious that it is the grace of God that has preserved me and aware that I at least have a voice through which to make this House think again about the plight of the now only 28 people whose lives have been so blighted.

I put this appeal to the Leader of the House: a measure of compensation should be provided for these unhappy people. I know that I am not the only Member who feels strongly about this matter. I know that hon. Members on both sides of the House have made a number of appeals and put many questions to Ministers. In my opinion the good name of the Government, the Department of Health and the National Health Service is somehow besmirched by the failure to recognise the dreadful blight that has come to these people at the hands of the NHS.

When a Minister admits in a letter to me that a medical accident has killed 22 people and looks likely to kill a good many more, leaving families without financial support and ruining marriages, natural justice—and I submit that there is such a thing—demands compassion demonstrated by financial assistance.

I have already referred to the Macfarlane Trust, which disburses Government funds to the haemophiliacs. I wrote to its chairman, the Rev. Prebendary Alan Tanner, asking if the trust had any discretion as to who it helped with funds. In his reply Mr. Tanner said: The Macfarlane Trust Deed was written very specifically for the haemophiliac community … I am sorry to say that I do not think that your enquiry reveals a viable option. We hope that you and like-minded colleagues of all parties will be able to provide a separate and additional solution for other afflicted groups. So do I. After all, only as recently as last Tuesday the French Government decided to change its mind and bring forward a compensation package which included both haemophiliacs who had contracted HIV from contaminated blood products and those who had received blood transfusions also containing the virus. So why not us?

Baroness Hooper, in her letter, argues: The more that is spent on making payments to those who, through nobody's fault, have been harmed as a result of a medical accident, the less there is available for treating patients who have become ill. That is quite right, but is her statement borne out by what we know of spending on AIDS, to take an example linked to the case that I am arguing? I fear not.

Only this week, on 10 December, The Daily Telegraph reported, under the heading "MPs attack NHS over AIDS money", as follows: Government health officials were strongly criticised by MPs yesterday for their handling of health authorities who `pinched' money earmarked to treat Aids for other purposes. Mr. Duncan Nichol, chief executive of the health service, was closely questioned by the Commons public accounts committee about the lack of disciplinary action against those responsible for significant lapses in Aids spending uncovered by the National Audit Office. In a report in the summer, the Office found more than £15 million granted by the Government to combat Aids remained unspent or had been diverted to other work. I suggest to my right hon. Friend that the Government need not stumble over the £1,750,000 which would give the same compensation to the 50 who received contaminated blood transfusions as was given to the haemophiliacs. The money is really there in terms of this £15 million, which I gather is now being sought from the local authorities that have misspent it and some of which, apparently, is unspent.

If I am right, providing that compensation would effectively cost the NHS nothing, but it would end one of the unhappiest and most tragic incidents to afflict the health service in my lifetime. While I know that my right hon. Friend, in winding up this debate, may not feel that he can comment in detail on what I have said, I ask him to convey my comments to the Secretary of State for Health and that, as a distinguished former Treasury Minister, he will consider what I have said about payment of compensation and, perhaps, before we resume in the new year, will have been able to make a statement that will give comfort to the 28 people who are still alive and to the dependants of the 22 who have already died from AIDS.

5.8 pm

Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)

Eloquently and at times movingly, hon. Members have used the Adjournment debate to raise distressing situations and to take the opportunity to remind us, as we approach the Christmas festivities, that many find themselves in very distressing circumstances. I take the opportunity to press the Government on the position in Croatia, where there continues to be a massive loss of life. In particular, I want to ask the Leader of the House to comment on the dual issues of recognition of Croatia and the need for an international peacekeeping and peacemaking force in that troubled part of the world.

If anyone is in doubt about the importance and the urgency of the matter, he need look only at today's tapes. Just two hours ago, I took the following extract from the tapes: Undeterred by freezing temperatures, the Yugoslav army and Croatian forces fought new battles today in Yugoslavia's breakaway republic of Croatia, further denting dwindling hopes of peace. The fighting raged throughout Croatia yesterday and up to 26 people were reported killed. This reduced the likelihood of a ceasefire taking hold that would allow the United Nations to send peacekeeping troops to Yugoslavia. Croatian radio said the town of Valpovo in eastern Croatia was under artillery fire all night and nearby villages were also fired on. The two of Zemenuk Donji, about six miles from the Adriatic coast, was also under attack". According to the tapes, the European monitors, who have been reporting about the position in Croatia say that about 1,000 have been identified as having been killed during the fighting in Vukovar. The report continues: The once quiet town of 50,000 people on the river Danube was reduced to rubble by constant shelling and house-to-house fighting. About 14,000 civilians stayed through the siege, cowering in cellars. Inevitably, much of the information is a patchwork of reports, but we know that about 11 per cent. of the population have been displaced by the fighting that has continued since the summer. Although estimates of casualties are notoriously unreliable, about 15,000 people have been registered as injured during the fighting, and 30,000—90 per cent. of them civilians—are missing. We are told that 223 churches and monasteries have been destroyed, that damage to hospitals and other medical facilities is estimated at about £100 million and that damage to civilian property is estimated at between £1 billion and £2 billion. Dubrovnik, now in its 72nd day without electricity or water, is in a parlous state.

I heard from one Croatian earlier today about what had happened to her friends. She said that they had recently killed a pig for food but could not eat it after discovering human hands in its stomach; it had been scavenging food from unburied bodies. That graphic illustration demonstrates the desperate seriousness of the position in Croatia and perhaps our failure in the West to concentrate our minds and our attention sufficiently on the tragedy.

There has been no debate in the House on the war in Croatia, but hon. Members have tabled early-day motions with which I have been associated. An all-party Friends of Croatia group has been established. The hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi) tabled early-day motion 138. My hon. Friend the Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) tabled early-day motion 219. About 70 signatures have been added to those motions. The hon. Members for Hyndburn (Mr. Hargreaves), Ynys Môn (Mr. Jones), Sheffield, Attercliffe (Sir P. Duffy) and Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) are among the sponsors of those motions. That demonstrates the breadth of concern in the House.

In looking at the origins of the conflict and at why hon. Members believe that there is a need for recognition of Croatia, it is worth reflecting that, in any civil war, families and communities become pitted against one another as old grievances, half-remembered slights, distortion and disinformation compete tenaciously for attention. As we have heard today from the hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder), we need look no further than Northern Ireland to see the truth of what I am saying.

Now, in what was Yugoslavia, there is massive communal violence between Croat and Serb, Catholic and Orthodox. One in ten of Croatia's inhabitants are of Serbian extraction and they, as a vulnerable minority, fear that in an independent Croatia they will be reduced to servile status. That issue has to be addressed by Croatians. For decades, Serbian privileges have permeated every public institution, the police, the army and all the apparatus which enabled the communist regime to flourish.

Collective memory prevents many of the principal players from seeking solutions based on trust, reconciliation or consensus. Serbians prefer instead to remind us of the all too real atrocities committed by the Ustashe, backed by the Nazis, who reputedly supported a programme of racial purification: one third of Croatia's Serbian population was to be exterminated, one third repatriated to Serbia and the remainder forcibly converted to Catholicism. Many Serbian families living in London can graphically describe the barbarism which they experienced during that lamentable period. Notwithstanding that, many Croatians also supported Tito and the patriots.

The issue now is not what happened in the 1940s. To confuse those events with the present tragedy is as logical as saying that every member of today's German Government could be associated with the events of the 1930s and with Hitler's Germany. Surely, in looking to the future, we must look to today's Croatian leadership. We must examine what they stand for, whether they are entitled to our respect and whether their goals differ from those of the Ustashe.

Most of today's leaders are modern democrats who see their future as an independent state within the European Community of nations. With a population of 4.5 million, that would put them on a par with some of the Community's smaller states. The Croatian Democratic Union successfully fought the 1990 election on a programme of establishing a modern democratic state. It is pledged to reprivatising social ownership, the establishment of a market economy, the guarantee of all human and civil rights and the rule of law. In contrast, Serbia continues to be ruled by communist hardliners who seem totally uninterested in resolving the Yugoslav crisis democratically.

Some commentators have caricatured Croatia's leaders as the heirs of fascism. I think that caricature is unworthy of those commentators. We need to look more deeply at the issue. We must recognise that people in Croatia are entitled to the same aspirations as the rest of us. In the recent referendum, 94.6 per cent. voted for self-determination and the right of autonomy.

I should like to commend three principles to the Leader of the House for action. The first is self-determination and the protection of democracy. We should not be locked into borders created in the aftermath of world war two. We have already had to recognise the reality of events in the Soviet Union and the emergence again of the Baltic states as independent republics. There will be massive changes throughout eastern and central Europe, so there is no point in clinging to old borders and old boundaries. Surely it is the principle of self-determination which must count.

I agree strongly with the Foreign Secretary's description of the Serbian-dominated federal army as a band of brigands. He should also recognise the legitimacy of the Croatians to break free from that band of brigands and to be able to have control over their own affairs.

The second principle is international recognition. The Prime Minister said that the Government would consider recognition "when there is peace". That is a formula for ensuring that there never will be peace. It builds in a reason why the Serbs should continue the conflict. Germany is about to recognise Croatia, probably before Christmas. European Community leaders will discuss the issue on Monday. I hope that we will not try to impede the process. We should not see it as a stalking horse for a common European foreign policy or defence policy.

If the Prime Minister is to be consistent with the statements made post-Maastricht that every issue will be considered on its merits, he and the Foreign Secretary should look at the position in Croatia on its merits and consider again the issue of recognition. If Croatia were recognised, it would enable it to go to the United Nations to argue its case. That is the main reason why that important decision needs to be taken.

The third principle is international peacemaking. In the House, we have maintained the need to have a United Nations peacekeeping and peacemaking force in parts of the world where people's rights are suppressed. When Kuwait was invaded by Iraq, in the House we sanctioned the use of force to re-establish the legitimacy of the Kuwaiti Government to govern their own affairs. I believe that we should argue for nothing less, despite the fact that no oil or financial interests are involved. Sadly, those are all too often the major motivating force.

The same logic should apply to Croatia. One half of Europe should not become obsessed with monetary union and internal policy while the other half cracks up. We must take action with our European neighbours and through the United Nations to try to end the conflict in Croatia. We should not wait until the conflict is resolved before discussing whether to send a peacekeeping force.

The Government should consider the possibility of erecting a sky shield over Croatian air space. It would not require the deployment of troops on the ground, but would stop some of the worst aerial bombardment and could be enforced effectively by NATO or the United Nations. We also need the establishment of more humanitarian sea lanes, which the Foreign Secretary has already supported. Such a sensible idea could give immediate relief.

We should also consider the issue of humanitarian aid. So far, just £77,000 has been given, yet one in eight Croatians are displaced persons or refugees. Given the chronic poverty, hunger and destitution, we should try to increase the amount of aid that we give.

The European Community observers' report starkly and bleakly reminds the House of our need to be concerned about what is happening in that important corner of Europe. In their report published today, they say that the army is ready to press the button for a ground offensive which could cut through Croatia and Slovenia". That could happen within the next seven days—before Christmas. But the report says that the army will try to take back Slovenia and reclaim the old Yugoslavia. It says that nine regions of Bosnia with Serbian majorities are said to be preparing to declare autonomy but that the army is arming Bosnian Serbs and disarming Muslims and Croats.

The EC observers say: An aerial photograph would show Bosnia as a huge assembly area of army forces ready to break into Croatia. EC observers have warned President Kucan of Slovenia that he is likely to be personally attacked. The European Community mission has been told that it should leave if the expected surge in fighting takes place next week. European Community observers do not favour recognition. They, too, have been saying that we should wait. But that is a form of appeasement. After 14 broken ceasefires, such a position will not deter the Serbian army, which the west has armed as a buffer state. The moral case for international intervention and recognition is overwhelming. When the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) went to Prague last year, she said—I totally agree with her—that never again would we in the United Kingdom ignore the plight of a small country because it was a faraway place and we knew little about it or its people. Is not that precisely what has been happening as Dubrovnik and Vukovar have been pounded into the ground, while people have been terrorised and churches and hospitals destroyed?

We must recognise that it is not a conflict between equals—the Queensberry rules have not been applied in Croatia. Serbia invaded Croatia, not the other way around. Serbia has access to stockpiles of arms and the full might of the federal army, whereas Croatia does not. In trying to shape western public opinion, Serbia is using all the crude black propagandist tricks that have been the hallmark of communist Governments throughout the years.

There is no logical reason why the British Government and the European Community should be indifferent to the plight of a small European nation, or why we should pretend to hold a neutral position in that battle of unequals. We should ensure that there is an effective international response to the conflict and, once a democracy is constructed in Croatia, minorities are adequately protected and all possible efforts are made to achieve reconciliation in that part of the world.

5.25 pm
Mr. John Ward (Poole)

This evening we shall hear various speeches on matters of national and international importance. I draw the attention of the House to two subjects, the first of which is concerned with human welfare and the second with animal welfare.

In 1988, stringent regulations were introduced in this country to prevent the sale of furniture and furnishings that did not meet tough flammability standards. Those regulations affected particularly the use of foam in furniture but covered only domestic upholstered furniture. Many of us hoped that similar regulations would be introduced to cover furniture in buildings open to the public, in cars and in public transport, including aircraft.

At present, the only European Community countries with fire regulations for domestic furniture are the United Kingdom and Ireland. Furniture in public buildings throughout the EC is covered by guidelines, voluntary agreements and codes of practice. Many of us hoped that avoidable deaths by fire could be prevented through the introduction of EC-wide regulations and, two years ago, work began on such a directive covering both domestic and contract furniture. A second draft directive was circulated last year and there was talk of a separate draft directive covering furniture in means of transport.

Now, however, EC Commissioner Bangemann has announced that the new directive, which would introduce lower standards of fire resistance than those currently required in the United Kingdom, could be postponed for up to eight years. That decision has been taken because the original proposed directive would introduce controls on the ignition resistance of furniture, and later measures would be introduced to control the spread of fire in ignited furniture. Commissioner Bangemann now wants to wait until the tests on the latter requirement have been devised before introducing either control.

That is bureaucracy gone mad. Although the United Kingdom would still be protected from the deadly effects of old-style foam fillings, the rest of the EC would continue to be at risk. I presume that we must now monitor the problem carefully to ensure that furniture that does not meet our high standards is not imported into the United Kingdom. Above all, we do not want lower standards of fire protection in this country, simply in the interests of EC harmonisation.

I congratulate the Consumers Association, which has campaigned for many years to have dangerous foam banned in the United Kingdom. I commend to the House its current campaign to ensure that our safety regulations are introduced throughout the EC in the shortest possible time. The association tells me that it is supported by fire brigades throughout the United Kingdom and it intends to bombard Commissioner Bangemann with seasonal greetings that will also ask him to reconsider his decision to postpone the introduction of an EC directive on safety in furniture. If any hon. Members wish to join in that campaign, full details are contained in the current edition of Which? I am sure that the House will wish to support the Consumers Association in its campaign.

I hope that Commissioner Bangemann will accept that we should introduce the safety regulations that can be implemented now, and introduce those that require more sophisticated testing at a later date. It is madness not to introduce each safety measure as soon as possible. We should not have to wait to present a neat and tidy package of regulations.

It is particularly distressing that we should have to debate this sad but vital subject at Christmas and we must convince the European Commissioner that he has a duty to take immediate action to prevent needless deaths that could be avoided by strict controls over the use of foam, which rapidly produces toxic fumes when subjected to fire.

The second subject to which I wish to refer is animal welfare. Records show that standards of animal welfare in this country are generally higher than those of our European partners, but many of us are still concerned that regulations to be introduced in this country in 1998, such as a ban on tethering sows, will not apply to the rest of the European Community until 2006. The EC directive does not deal with the close confinement of sows, which has already been dealt with in this country.

At present, the only way of showing our disapproval of veal crates is not to buy veal in this country, provided we are able to identify it. Animal welfare in an appropriate issue for the European Commission to act on and improve standards throughout the Community.

At a time when European food stores are bulging it seems senseless to go on producing surpluses of meat in such cruel conditions. We have all seen the distressing scenes on television when live animals are transported across the continent of Europe for ultimate slaughter. I am sure that most of us would prefer all the animals to be slaughtered here before being exported. I accept that that may not always be possible.

I want the European Commission inspectorate which is to be appointed—largely as a result of the effort of our own Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and his colleagues, on which I congratulate them—to have effective powers and penalties at its disposal. I welcome the fact that there are proposals for a directive covering the welfare of animals at slaughter. I am told that it will roughly conform to the laws already in force in the United Kingdom. I am worried that some of our European partners will not wish to enforce directives on animal welfare; so the European Commission inspectorate must have the power to enforce the regulations.

I particularly wish to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on achieving what some may consider a minor protocol at Maastricht on animal welfare. It ensures the consideration of cruelty issues in all future moves by the Commission and European Community Ministers, which should help to prevent some of the factory farming scandals of which we know and some of the well-publicised Spanish practices involving cruelty to animals. I trust that progress can be made in obtaining protection for animals and—this is important—fire protection for humans.

5.33 pm
Mr. Allen McKay (Barnsley, West and Penistone)

I hope to raise a number of issues that affect my constituency and constituents.

Since the Government introduced poll tax capping, I and other hon. Friends and representatives from local authorities have tried, without success, to persuade the Secretary of State for the Environment of the unfairness of the standard spending assessments and how the system works to the disadvantage of my local authority of Barnsley and its residents.

The Association of Metropolitan Authorities has clearly recognised the problem, and responded by saying that the system is unfair and it would not object to movement in the total SSA of all local authorities to try to overcome that unfairness.

Next year's increase in standard spending assessment will give Barnsley authority an increase of just 4.6 per cent. —only 89 per cent. of the average increase for all the Metropolitan districts, 68 per cent. of the national average increase, 65 per cent. of the average of the shire counties increase and 55 per cent. of the increase given to the city of Westminster. The rate support grant settlement announced recently, the unfairness of the SSA and this year's reduction in the area support grant mean that the poll tax payers of Barnsley will have to pay significantly higher poll tax while the local authority is faced with a £5 million cut in its already depleted services.

While I accept that someone has to be at the bottom of the league, the way that the figures are calculated means not only that we are at the bottom, but that the system is unfair. Why is it that for every £1 per adult that Barnsley receives, Manchester receives £1.78, Westminster receives £2, Liverpool receives £1.54 and Birmingham receives £1.53? How can the House accept that an average 1,000 pupil school, costs Manchester £654 per pupil more than it costs Barnsley? Surely there cannot be such a difference in the educational system of the two authorities. Why is my authority deprived of the money that other people are able to receive?

While I think that the Secretary of State understands the problem, he cannot find a formula to alter Barnsley's position without altering that of every other local authority. His answer that someone has to be at the bottom does not alleviate Barnsley's problem. The gap between those at the top and bottom of the league is huge, and needs to be decreased through a restructuring of the grant system for all local authorities. I accept that that will mean that other local authorities will have to lose some of their grants, but the extent of the present unfairness is unbelievable.

There are many effects of that injustice: roadworks are not carried out; the parks and recreation department has been cut to a minimum; repairs to schools have not been carried out for the past three to four years; the whole of the adult education system is now being wiped out; and social services provisions such as home helps has been curtailed. About 50 per cent. of social workers are currently on strike purely because the necessary regrading structure cannot be implemented because the money is not available.

The fire service, which runs on the same standard spending assessment formula, is also affected. The fire service SSA was due to be increased by 9.2 per cent.—the highest increase for some time—but the capping level is below that. Therefore, the service cannot receive the 9.2 per cent. increase that it was supposed to have. Once the figure reaches 4.8 per cent., its levels are capped.

The issue is significant in relation to the speech of the hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Ward) on foam furniture. The fire service, which is already 28 firemen short, will lose another 52 men because they cannot be paid. Training has been cut: for the past two years no senior officers have been sent to Moreton in the Marsh for specialised training because the money is not available. The trickle-down effect of that is that services and training are not available. There is a delay in the replacement of equipment, and repairs to equipment have been cut. That means that appliances are kept on the road for far longer than they should be without being serviced. Minimum basic training is disappearing.

I know of a specific problem involving Mr. and Mrs. Hodgson of Rockley Abbey farm, Worsbrough, who farm various districts around my constituency, one of which is at Worsbrough, down White Cross lane. The only way out from that district involves crossing a railway bridge. The central farm is at Rockley Abbey; farm machinery and the stores of produce are kept in outlying regions. That means that 500 tonnes of corn, 300 tonnes of rape, 100 tonnes of barley and a quantity of beans have to be transported down that lane. British Rail has asked the local authority to reduce the restrictive load across the bridge from 30 to 3 tonnes, so the produce and farm machinery cannot now be moved across the bridge.

Since April, nobody said a word to the farmer about that happening. Had he been told, a store would have been made on the other side of the bridge, but his produce is now waiting in a barn or a store. Farm equipment is on the wrong side of the bridge and it cannot be got across; nor can the containers go across to bring out the produce.

Nothing has altered on the bridge since it was built. The structure and the surface are the same. Only the regulations about how to calculate the safety of a bridge have altered. It is merely a bit of paper which says that such a bridge can now carry only 3 tonnes. Since April, there have been arguments with the local authority about whose responsibility it is. The local authority, as the highway authority, has accepted that it is responsible. At a cost of £6,000—that sum has to be put to a committee because of poll tax capping—the authority could enable the bridge to carry 17 tonnes and thus allow the farm equipment to cross, but that would still not bring out the farm produce.

It is inconceivable that in 1945 we could in a few hours build across the Rhine bridges that could bear armies, but that now we cannot build a bridge to carry corn in a 20-tonne load. British Rail insists that the work must go out to tender and that there must be a design stage before then. It is estimated that the work to increase the capacity to 17 tonnes will take three months.

However, there is another problem. European Community regulations impose a certain way of bringing the corn across. They ask whether the load can be decanted and brought across in 10-tonne loads and pushed into 28-tonnes vans. That problem is currently being considered, but, even if the regulations are waived, there is still the problem that in three months the farmer will be near bankruptcy because the contracts that he had already signed to sell his produce cannot be kept. It is inconceivable that such an attitude should prevail.

It is necessary only for British Rail to lift the restriction for a few hours and for its inspectors to be present to allow the load to cross. The local authority, having accepted a 17-tonne limit, could do the work in three months and the farmer could get his machinery across and store it on the other side.

In the long term—this relates to standard spending assessments—it will cost the local authority £1 million to build a new bridge. It is a political issue because, in view of capping, the authority must decide whether, faced with crumbling schools and cuts in services, it can spend £1 million to build a bridge to satisfy the needs of a farmer who has a legal right to get his stock across.

That is a Catch-22 situation and the Government must consider two aspects. First, they should persuade British Rail to lift the restrictions so that the farmer does not go bankrupt and, secondly, they must ensure that there is; sufficient flexibility to allow a local authority to spend the. money to remedy the problem with the bridge. If they do not, it will be clear how ridiculous and inflexible central and local government are in not allowing the authority to carry out its duties merely because of insufficient finances.

Before the House rises, I should like to think that the produce will get across and that there will be some sensibility in the SSA to help my hard-pressed authority. I should also like to think that the Secretary of State who refused to meet representatives of the authority will at least have the magnanimity to recognise the problem and to use his good offices to remedy it. I should like to see some sensibility in the Government's attitude towards allowing local authorities to get on with their duties.

5.43 pm
Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton)

I shall follow the hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. McKay) by talking about another public service, in this case one which is very near the heart of my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council, because he was once Secretary of State for Education and Science. I want to talk especially about adult education, and to ask for a clear statement of Government policy before the House rises for the Christmas recess. I appreciate that the House has exceptionally important business next week, but there are a number of matters about which there is considerable public concern and which need immediate clarification.

During Question Time this week, I asked the Minister of State, Department of Education and Science about the representations that he had received on the future financing of adult education. he said: I am aware of the concern felt by community colleges in Leicestershire, Devon and Cambridgeshire. He continued: we can categorically reassure those colleges that they have nothing to fear."—[Official Report, 10 December 1991; Vol 200, c. 724.] The community college provision in Leicestershire and in many other counties is extremely important. Such colleges are, so to speak, schools during the day, and cater for varying ages, although in my constituency Rutland is different from what I would call "old Leicestershire". However, in the late afternoon and evening, they become an important part of adult and further education. I believe that the same is true in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Mr. Powell). My wife, my family and I take advantage of these provisions at Uppingham community college in my constituency.

Such institutions are important and are well respected by members of the public, so there is concern that they might be badly affected by the new Bill. Having had assurances from my hon. Friend, I should be grateful if my right hon. Friend could repeat them and say that community colleges—I am not talking about colleges of further education—play an important part in Government thinking, and that the Government do not believe that they will be disadvantaged by the new arrangements.

That would reassure the community colleges that have expressed their concern to me, and it would also reassure the Workers Educational Association, which is a respected organisation. The secretary of its east midlands district wrote to me—and, I am sure, to many other hon. Members representing east midlands constituencies: There is no recognition of Role Education in the White Paper"— which is now a Bill. He continued: This includes retirement education, school governor training, education for those actively involved in voluntary organisations, many courses enabling women to play a fuller part at work and in society and courses building the confidence of the unemployed. He asked: Can you bring pressure to bear to identify and acknowledge the importance of this very large sector of adult education? One specific aspect, I know, is of great concern to my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr), whom I am delighted to see here. Only the day before yesterday, he and I were discussing adult basic education, which means, in practice, helping people who have learning difficulties. Such people have often left school and might be in their late teens or twenties, or may be considerably older. Some may have handicaps and difficulties with reading skills.

The usual method of assisting such people in Leicestershire and Rutland—and probably in other counties—is either to work in small groups with a maximum of 10 students with individual support and some voluntary assistance, or, in many cases, on a one-to-one basis in the student's home or in a neutral place such as a church hall. These people do not find it easy to go to formal classes in colleges of further education or schools.

I have received a letter from some people who act as tutors or perform similar roles in Syston in my constituency: Every student within the scheme is visited in their home by a specially trained tutor. The tutor finds out what the student's needs are and informs them of what adult basic education actually is. They tell them that the groups are small and informal, you leave whenever you feel ready and join when you want to. Students are treated as adults and therefore all our materials are adult based. The lady goes on to ask: Informal groups such as ours help to build confidence and enable students to apply for better jobs or to attend further courses … Will an FE teacher be able to handle this situation correctly so as not to cause further harm, whilst getting information at the same time? She goes on to ask whether students who are physically or mentally handicapped or who have Down's syndrome will be catered for in the new arrangements. She wants to know what will happen to groups during the day, held for unemployed people, mothers at home and people who cannot attend during the evening. These are genuine questions, and they must be answered.

I have had a number of moving letters from students who are receiving help by means of adult basic education in community colleges, and receiving one-to-one teaching. I want clear assurances from my right hon. Friend that the matter will be properly dealt with.

My hon. Friend the Minister of State wrote to me on 28 October on this very matter: We want to see a pattern of provision which makes the best use of facilities and expertise and which is readily accessible to local communities. This will mean using all resources properly—whether these are in further education colleges or in adult education centres and colleges run by local education authorities. We shall expect colleges and local authorities to work closely together, building on existing collaborative links, to secure a pattern of provision for adults which best suits local circumstances and is accessible to local communities. We are looking at this might be achieved. I presume that my hon. Friend meant, "looking at what might be achieved in this regard."

I want clear assurances from my right hon. Friend that matters have moved on since that letter and that Ministers can reassure me, my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough and people from other county authorities in which adult basic education is handled on a one-to-one basis. We need to know that the new arrangements will not disadvantage these people, who are struggling and who often experienced difficulties in their school careers. They are trying to bring their reading and numeracy skills up to scratch so that they can go on to other courses, to better jobs or to any job at all.

We must help these disadvantaged people. I am worried by the number of letters that I have had from them. They, in turn, are worried about the new proposals; and I look to my right hon. Friend to offer me clear assurances that their needs will be tackled.

Sir John Farr (Harborough)

I am much obliged to my hon. Friend for giving way to me on this important subject. I echo all that he has said. Leicestershire is in a peculiar situation, because we have spent more than the national average on one-to-one education and adult basic education, and we want to be absolutely certain that anything the Minister puts in place under the new legislation will provide us with no less than we already enjoy in the form of high standards.

Mr. Latham

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for putting it so well. He reflects my views exactly. I commend his views, my own and those of my constituents to my right hon. Friend.

5.53 pm
Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)

I should like to bring to the attention of the House serious matters that arose in Northern Ireland on Friday 22 November.

That morning, the people of Northern Ireland read in their papers and heard on the broadcast media reports that, in its first ever decision, the Fair Employment Tribunal, established by an Act of this House in 1989, had found the Eastern health and social services board guilty of religious discrimination when making an appointment. That was regrettable, but my complaint is not with the finding of the tribunal. The news went on to say that the tribunal had found that it was discrimination, and thus unlawful, to display in a workplace the union flag and pictures of the royal family. It was also said that one of the board's supervisors had displayed a photograph of herself and a leader of a principal party in Ulster. We were told that that was also unlawful.

These reports were based on a Fair Employment Commission press release issued the previous night. The first page of that release, after announcing in its first two sentences that the tribunal had held the board guilty of discrimination in failing to appoint a Catholic laundry worker to a permanent position, continued: The tribunal recorded that the officers of the EHSSB who appeared and gave evidence appeared to know of the existence of the board's equal opportunities policy but that none of them were acquainted with the contents of that policy and none of them appeared to be in the least disturbed by that fact. The press release further recorded that the undisputed evidence of the applicant was that party tunes were played in the laundry, the union flag was displayed in the laundry, pictures of the royal family were displayed, and one supervisor displayed a photograph of herself and the leader of a political party in Ulster; but that the Eastern health and social services board stated that the board did not have a policy on such matters as flags and had no reason to think that offence would be taken to the union flag. The tribunal described the respondents' evidence as "contradictory and fundamentally so".

This press release clearly gave prominence not to the reasons why the board failed to appoint the applicant but to what, on any reading of the case, was a peripheral issue. This emphasis was reinforced by the behaviour of one of the commission's directors who, the night the press release was issued, telephoned the main media outlets to let them know that the commission was releasing an important statement on flags and emblems. That of course biased the discussion the next day. The director followed that up in interviews. I did not hear those interviews, but the director's conduct of them has been described to me as aggressive and as leaving the listener in no doubt that these emblems must be removed from the workplace.

The press release and the comments on it gave considerable offence to a wide range of people in Ulster who were appalled by the disrespect shown by a public body to the royal family.

The story so far is bad enough. It gets worse when one realises that the reaction of the press and its presentation of the story was based on a complete misinterpretation of the tribunal's decision. The case concerned the failure of the board to make an appointment to a job and it turned on the reasons why other candidates had been preferred, and on the interviewing panel's assessment of those other candidates.

The tribunal's reasons concentrated on the conduct of the interview. Paragraph 7(g) of the tribunal's judgment reads: Whilst it is not in any sense conclusive regard can nevertheless be paid to"— three matters are mentioned here, and the fourth is: whatever may be said about the effects of the union flag or indeed pictures of the royal family in the work place in Northern Ireland, the fact that the local management permitted the playing of party tunes in the laundry at Purdysburn". It is clear that in this part of the judgment the tribunal is taking into account only the playing of party tunes, which is fair enough. I should perhaps point out that "party tunes" does not refer to the sort of festive music in which people might be engaged at this time of the year. Party tunes might involve on one side Orange songs and on the other, Republican songs—or any other form of what we call diddle-de-de-music.

It is fair enough to criticise the playing of party tunes, but it is also clear that the tribunal does not take into account at any point in its decision the display of the union flag and pictures of the royal family. The most that can be said from the Fair Employment Commission's viewpoint is that the tribunal left those matters to one side and criticised the absence of a board policy on them. But the FEC distorted matters so as to give a false impression. In the reasons given by the tribunal no reference was made to the photograph, which appeared prominently in the press release of the FEC.

I consider the most damning aspect in the FEC's press release was the description by the tribunal of the board's evidence as "contradictory and fundamentally so", which, in the FEC's press release, comes after the words: but that the [board] informed [the tribunal] that the board did not have a policy on such matters as flags and had no reason to think offence would be taken to the Union flag. That gives the reader the impression that "contradictory and fundamentally so" is related to this aspect. But it comes nowhere near the brief mention of flags in the tribunal's judgment; it comes at the tribunal's assessment of the evidence of the interviewing panel and its reasons for preferring someone else to the applicant. It is a comment on the evidence of the chairman of the interviewing panel when comparing the applicant with one of those successful in obtaining employment.

I have said enough to show that the commission issued a press release which created a false impression. Sadly, I have to say that I am convinced that that false impression was created deliberately. This was not a case in which someone, in his enthusiasm, misinterpreted a complex legal document. The judgment was fairly short and clear. Moveover, the commission director who issued the press release is a lawyer who is perfectly capable of reading a short tribunal judgment correctly. She cannot have forgotten how to read a case so soon. You see, Mr. Speaker, I am sorry to say that that commissioner is known to me not just as a lawyer but as a person of strong nationalist opinions who would probably be hostile to the display of our national flag or our sovereign's portrait at any point in Northern Ireland.

There are important issues of principle. It is appalling that a public body should issue such falsehoods. That will only reinforce the widespread impression in Northern Ireland that the commission is biased, following its own political agenda. I am sorry to say that that impression is strengthened by the commission's silence since I first exposed the errors more than two weeks ago.

The fair employment code of practice speaks of promoting a harmonious working environment where no worker feels threatened or intimidated. That is a fair objective. One can easily think of slogans and emblems which would intimidate. One could even think of circumstances in which the union flag might be used in an intimidating way—for example, by pushing it aggressively at people—but I cannot see how it can be said that our national flag or pictures of the royal family can by themselves ever be threatening or intimidating.

If they were—if the commission's apparent view on the matter were followed—it would lead to absurdities. Portraits of Her Majesty are displayed as a matter of course in schools and police stations. The union flag is regularly used in advertising and packaging. It is even used by some firms which bear the name "British". Are those uses to be outlawed?

It is significant that in this matter the commission has pursued and attacked only those emblems which express a British identity. It does not pursue the emblems of Irish nationalism with the same vigour, and it is silent on Roman Catholic religious symbols prominent in some schools and a national health service hospital—symbols which many would find offensive, not just on aesthetic grounds.

The Northern Ireland Office must curb that campaign. I wrote to the Secretary of State on that matter on 25 November, nearly three weeks ago. Not only has there been no reply but to my knowledge no statement has been made by the Northern Ireland Office on the matter. It is time for that silence, which might appear to give consent, to be ended. I hope that the Leader of the House will arrange for a statement to be made on the matter before the House rises.

6.3 pm

Mr. Douglas French (Gloucester)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Sir M. McNair-Wilson) on the moving way in which he presented his case on behalf of those who have received contaminated blood. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Sir J. Stokes) on a vintage performance in which he reminded the House of the great traditions and components of British public life. He is a touchstone of sound values and common sense, which we neglect at our peril.

I was interested in the case made by the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon). He spoke about rail safety, and I want to refer to road safety, which merits attention before the House rises. Road safety usually finds a place in the Christmas Adjournment debate, because it is a sad fact that, during the holiday, there will be many road accidents. I hope that the number of those will be down on last year, but I am afraid that many will be killed or injured and vehicles will be damaged.

In all such cases, the drivers will need to produce details of their insurance. Many will be able to provide such details for the police or for the other drivers involved on the spot, but unfortunately many will not. Some will not have their insurance certificate or cover note with them, some will think that they have it but on looking will find that they do not know where it is, and some may have to produce their documents at a police station within five days, a procedure which is reported to cost the police about £20 million a year. Some involved in an accident will adopt an indignant attitude because they believe that they are innocent, and may refuse to produce their documents altogether for fear that that might affect their no claims bonus.

In some cases, it will be discovered that the insurance cover has expired, that the driver has no insurance cover at all, and that has serious consequences. Sometimes that situation might exist knowingly or even deliberately, and in other cases it will be the result of an oversight.

On the face of it, that problem could be eased by requiring evidence of insurance to be displayed in the windscreen of every vehicle in the same way as the tax disc provides immediate and visible evidence that a vehicle has been taxed and may be used on the road. In the same way, an insurance disc could be required to be displayed in the windscreen, and would provide visible evidence of insurance cover.

That would not be a total solution to the problem. The uninsured motorist who has failed for one reason or another to obtain the necessary insurance cover may not be persuaded by that procedure any more than the person who is determined to avoid the payment of the tax necessarily finds that the requirement to have a tax disc persuades him to abide by the law. But it can be fairly said that, if the tax disc were not required to be displayed, the level of evasion would be likely to be higher. It follows from that that, if an insurance disc were required to be displayed, the number of uninsured motorists would be likely to decrease.

It has been estimated that the number of drivers driving while uninsured is in the region of 1 million. Some may have stolen the vehicle that they are driving, a situation which the House had an opportunity to consider on Monday, 9 December, when it debated the Aggravated Vehicle-Taking Bill, but tonight I am not so much concerned with those who steal vehicles—they can be dealt with by separate legislation—as with those who decide to take a chance on not being insured. They may think that it is a fair bet that they are unlikely to run into difficulties if they do not have insurance cover, and will at the same time save a considerable amount of money. There are also those who simply neglect to get cover because they are disorganised or cannot be bothered, and who do not appreciate its importance.

The proposal for an insurance disc has some objections. Under section 143 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, the user of a vehicle is required to be insured rather than the vehicle itself. Some insurance policies cover an insured person and his spouse or a named driver only; it is not the vehicle that is insured but the individual. Therefore, an insurance disc would not necessarily prove that the person driving the vehicle was insured to drive it.

A similar difficulty might be said to arise in regard to the use to which a vehicle is being put. Some policies restrict use to social, domestic and pleasure purposes only, and that problem would not automatically be solved by displaying an insurance disc on the windscreen. Such a disc would not provide total proof, because the terms of the policy might be being broken. However, it would provide usable and tangible evidence that cover of some kind existed in relation either to the driver or vehicle; evidence of the existence of an insurance policy, rather than proof of its adequacy.

It would be possible to incorporate in the design of the disc information about the insurance cover in force. It could specify the name of the driver, which should be no more difficult than specifying the make of a car on a tax disc. Likewise, specifying the restricted use attributable to a particular driver should be no more difficult than specifying on a tax disc the class of vehicle that it covers.

As to insurance being based on individuals rather than on vehicles, most people are accustomed to driving one or perhaps two vehicles most of the time—but an individual could display his or her own personal insurance disc in the windscreen at the beginning of a journey in any other car that they might drive.

Those arrangements have found favour in several other countries. It is the prevailing system in France, Italy, Belgium, and the Irish Republic. It was introduced in Ireland and France as long ago as 1986, and has proved very successful. In Ireland, it was estimated that, prior to the system being introduced, as many as 20 per cent. of drivers on the roads in the Republic were uninsured. Within one year, the number fell to between 6 and 8 per cent. It was estimated also that each uninsured car was costing as much as £70 extra on the insurance of those drivers who did take out insurance.

In the Republic of Ireland and in France, it has become the practice for insurers to provide discs as part of the certificate issued when a policy is granted, in the form of a tear-off section to be displayed in the vehicle's windscreen. If any details change during the term of the insurance, the old disc is called in and a new one is issued. That simple procedure has presented neither country with any difficulties.

The time may eventually come when the Chancellor of the Exchequer decides to abolish vehicle excise duty and the tax disc in favour of a duty on petrol. Successive Chancellors have considered doing so for a very long time, and Jersey is to adopt that system with effect from 1 January 1993. If that practice were adopted in the UK, it would bring to an end the annual regular check on insurance, under which drivers are required to produce insurance documents before a new tax disc is issued. That would increase the argument in favour of being required to display a separate insurance disc.

It remains an anomaly that, in order to obtain a vehicle excise disc that relates to a vehicle, one has to produce documents that relate to an individual. It is anomalous also that the driver's insurance may expire within a week of the issue of a tax disc that could remain valid for as long as one year afterwards.

The scheme that I have described would discourage evasion and effect considerable savings in administrative and police costs, and in insurance premiums, and would provide greater certainty and knowledge for motorists. In due course, such a system could form part of a greater scheme in which driving licences, MOT certificates, excise duty, and insurance all found their way on to the same database, which would bring great benefits to the organisation of motoring in general. However, a good start could be made by the introduction of insurance discs.

6.14 pm
Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)

I should not want the House to adjourn for the Christmas recess until I have raised the issue of the desirability of the Government reviewing the distribution of food surpluses from Europe.

Today, I received a telephone call from a reporter on the Halifax Evening Courier informing me that, at 10 o'clock this morning, a constituent of mine—79-year-old Mrs. Maria Clark—died as she stood in the freezing cold, queuing for free surplus butter and beef that is distributed to those eligible for it. I understand that, earlier this week, two other elderly people collapsed as they queued for hours in the cold for that food.

In March, a member of the women's section of the Halifax branch of the Royal British Legion contacted me for advice on how she could help to distribute food surpluses. I contacted the local authority's director of social services, Mrs. Meryl Denton, who arranged for that lady to approach the local Council for Voluntary Service's. It decided to apply for a licence to distribute food surpluses—as did another voluntary organisation, the Islamic Cultural Centre.

I tried to highlight through the local press the fact that Government policy meant that not all elderly people were eligible to free surplus food, but only those who are on income support, and that strict criteria had to be observed. The local press did a very good job in conveying that information to the public. However, many pensioners who believed that they could be recipients were left disappointed when they realised that they were not eligible.

Such has been the increase in poverty during the last 12 years under a Conservative Government that 17,000 people in Halifax and the Calder valley are eligible for free butter and beef. The local authority cannot act as a distributor, and in any case does not have the money or the resources to do so, given the cuts that it has suffered in recent years as a consequence of poll tax capping and the rest.

Instead, applications to serve as distributors were made by the CVS and the Islamic Cultural Centre. I supported the former's application, but was unaware of the second. Nevertheless, I am pleased that the ICC applied, because the application by Mrs. Jackie Stark of the CVS was turned down by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. In August, she received notification that it had been made one day late. She was very cross, and disputed the fact that her application was late.

Given that it took the Ministry five months to respond. I cannot help but suspect petty bureaucracy and deliberate obstruction. The Ministry could be much more helpful to the voluntary sector, which is hard pressed trying to cope' with the state's abandonment of caring for the less well-off.

That left the Islamic Cultural Centre. I place on record my gratitude and thanks to that organisation, which works hard to distribute food to queues of literally thousands of people who turn up every time that it is available. It is a small organisation, and its centre cannot accommodate indoors all those who queue for the food. The Asian community are known for their respect for the elderly and concern for those who are not very well off. The ICC had a herculean task given the resources available to it, and it worked very hard.

I can think of no other recent incident that serves to highlight the way in which the Government have divided society and impoverished our nation over the past 12 years. The queues for food are reminiscent of what we saw in the 1930s. I find it tragic that a 79-year-old woman should die in freezing cold conditions while queueing for food.

The Government should be ashamed of their inability to organise a better distribution method. Every community should provide a place to which people can take a voucher and collect the food to which they are entitled, without experiencing the humiliation of queueing in the cold. All pensioners should be automatically eligible to such provision, as should everyone who receives benefit. The present criterion is much too mean.

I understand that the United States has called today for a conference on food aid for people of the Soviet Union to be held in Washington. In the light of what has happened in my constituency, I feel that the United Kingdom should be included in that conference.

6.20 pm
Mr. William Powell (Corby)

I understand that the Select Committee on Sittings of the House—which is chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling)—is considering a proposal that Adjournment debates such as this should cease to be part of our procedure. I hope that, if any such proposal is made, the House will reject it.

Yet again, our debates this afternoon have been extremely interesting and informative. My hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Sir J. Stokes) made a characteristically splendid speech, and the moral strength with which my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Sir M. McNair-Wilson) treats the subject that he raised is without parallel. The quiet authority with which he advanced his case made his speech one of the most impressive that I have ever heard in the House, and I hope very much that it will be taken seriously by my right hon. Friend and his colleagues.

I strongly agreed with what the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) said about Croatia. I am a member of the all-party group chaired by the hon. Gentleman, and I have twice called in the House for the recognition of Croatia. What is going on there now besmirches the reputation of our continent, and we must take a more robust attitude towards bringing the current dangerous nonsense to a halt.

We have heard other remarkable speeches this afternoon. It would be a great pity, and would diminish our procedures, if Adjournment debates ceased to take place.

A year ago, my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) asked for the prosecution of President Saddam Hussein for war crimes. She was quite right, and I strongly supported her view that he should be brought before a suitable international tribunal and required to account for his behaviour in the Gulf region.

The United Kingdom, Germany and the United States are all extremely concerned about the prosecution of those who are alleged to have been involved in the bombing of the aeroplane that exploded over Lockerbie a year or two ago. Warrants are out for their arrest, and no one has a greater admiration than I for the work of the Lord Advocate and the constabulary of Dumfries and Galloway: they have carried out a magnificent investigation. The fact remains, however, that it will be virtually impossible for us to bring those whom we wish to hold to account before any criminal tribunal in this country. Moreover, we must be honest and admit that the reputation of the quality of justice administered in British courts is not as good as we should like, following the alarming miscarriages of justice that have taken place in recent years.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley was absolutely right to call for the prosecution of Saddam Hussein; there is, however, no international tribunal before which he, or any other international criminal, can be brought to justice. I hope that the country will begin to take seriously the work that is being done in the United States and many other countries to establish such a tribunal, under the authority of the United Nations.

The first international court of criminal justice—I am not talking about appeal courts or bodies such as the European Court; I am talking about first-instance criminal courts which try people to establish their guilt or innocence—was established in 1474, in Breisach, Germany. No fewer than 27 judges of the Holy Roman Empire—I imagine that my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge approves of the Holy Roman Empire just as much as you and I, Mr. Deputy Speaker—judged and condemned Peter von Hagenbach for his violations of the laws of God and man. He had allowed his troops to rape, kill and pillage innocent German citizens and their property.

Modern international criminal law began with the Congress of Vienna in 1815. Those present—we heard about Prince Metternich only last week—discussed an international law relating to the suppression of the slave trade. Since then, there have been no fewer than 315 declarations, international instruments and protocols on substantive international criminal law, covering 22 crimes that could be recognised as having a genuinely international dimension: aggression, war crimes, unlawful use of weapons, crimes against humanity, genocide, apartheid, slavery and related practices, unlawful human experimentation, torture, piracy and crimes on board commercial vessels, aircraft hijacking and the sabotage of aircraft, kidnapping of diplomats and other internationally protected persons, the taking of civilian hostages, the mailing of explosive and dangerous objects, illicit drug cultivation and trafficking, destruction and theft of national and archaeological treasures, environmental damage, bribery of foreign public officials, international traffic in obscene materials, interference with submarine cables and the false accounting and theft of nuclear weapons and materials. Many of those are grounds on which an indictment or impeachment could be applied to Saddam Hussein—and ought to be—but the world has no tribunal before which he, or anyone else who could legitimately be charged with such crimes, can be tried.

From time to time, efforts have been made to establish such an arrangement. At the end of the first world war, at Versailles, it was agreed that the Kaiser could be tried; he was not tried. It was agreed that the Turkish leaders could be tried for the mass genocide of 600,000 Armenians during their occupation of the area in which Armenians lived during the first world war, but no progress was made. After the second world war, international tribunals were established at Nuremberg and in Tokyo, but their authority was subsequently undermined. Meanwhile, the United Nations has been trying to establish an international court of criminal jurisdiction.

This is not the first time that I have raised the matter in the House. I did so in the debate on the Queen's Speech. I did not, of course, expect my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to have sufficient grasp of the subject to reply, but I did expect him to pass on my views to the Foreign Office. I expect that he did so, but I have heard nothing from the Foreign Office about the action that it is taking. I regard that as disgraceful: I do not believe that the Foreign Office is doing anything about the matter, and it ought to be doing something.

An immense amount of work is being done in the world, under the leadership of one of the most remarkable legal scholars alive today—Professor M. Cherif Bassiouni, professor of law at De Paul University in Chicago, Illinois. His international institute has the support of the Italian Ministry of Justice in Syracuse, Sicily. Officials as well as academics in many countries have worked hard and the United Nations has published two draft constitutions for such an international court—the most recent was published in 1990. Professor Bassiouni took the leading role in the preparation of each, and is regarded as the UN draftsman on the subject.

What should we be doing? I have several suggestions. First, this country is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. Given the change in the international situation since the collapse of the iron curtain, and the fact that the UN is now for the first time capable of operating in the framework which its founding fathers envisaged, we and the other permanent members of the Security Council should take a lead in bringing forward the draft convention which is in place and turning it into agreed international law with an agreed permanent international tribunal capable of enforcing it.

I shall not go into detail on all the legal rules, and so on. They are all there. For the benefit of the House, they are easily available in the spring 1991 editions of the Nova Law Review and the Indiana International and Comparative Law Review. My right hon. Friend and our colleagues in the Foreign Office may find the articles by Professor Bassiouni in those two journals rather more interesting than many of the other documents that they may be given by their Departments to take away over the Christmas recess.

We need to start taking the matter seriously not only in the Security Council but in the European Community. Over the past few days, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, with our other right hon. Friends, has been involved most successfully at Maastricht, but in the new architecture of the European Community no place has been found for an international criminal tribunal dealing with European matters. I am convinced that, if there were such a tribunal, it would be easier to bring those accused of the Lockerbie bombing to justice.

Surely that would be true in the dimension of Irish terrorism, too. The quality of justice in British courts has been called into question from Ireland so many times that I am sure that it would be easier to overcome the difficulties of extradition if we had an international tribunal operating on a European basis.

One of the biggest deficiencies in the European institutions is the absence of such an international court. I hope that we will use our presidency of the Council of Ministers in the second part of next year to advance and bring to a successful conclusion the establishment of such a court.

One other factor is noticeable. Not only is the Foreign Office doing very little, if anything, but almost none of the vast literature on the subject is British. Almost none comes from English or Scottish universities, or the professional literature of lawyers and law libraries. In this country, an international tribunal is a Cinderella subject. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor should do much more to stimulate the study of how such an international institution could be used to overcome some of the deficiencies in our present system.

I have already said that Professor Bassiouni is one of the outstanding legal scholars in the world today. His work seems to be taken seriously in almost every country in the world—except this country. I am glad to say that in the United States Congress his work has been pursued with considerable vigour by Senator Specter and Congressman Jim Leach, who have brought the idea to the attention of the American public.

It is worth remembering that the US Senate voted by 97 votes to two that Saddam Hussein be brought to trial—but even if we manage to get hold of him, there would still be no place to try him. That problem must be dealt with.

In his seminal article in the Indiana International and Comparative Law Review, Professor Bassiouni concluded: We no longer live in a world where narrow conceptions of jurisdiction and sovereignty can stand in the way of an effective system of international co-operation for the prevention and control of international and transnational criminality. If the United States and the Soviet Union can accept mutual verification of nuclear arms controls, then surely they and other countries can accept a tribunal to prosecute not only drug traffickers and terrorists"— and those who ensnare people into slavery, and so on— but also those whose actions constitute such … crimes as aggression, war crimes, crimes against humanity and torture. Many of the international crimes for which the court would have jurisdiction are the logical extension of international protection of human rights. I entirely agree with Professor Bassiouni. We proclaim human rights again and again. Many people both in the House and elsewhere have distinguished reputations for proclaiming human rights. Long may they continue—but it is not enough merely to declare human rights: we must provide a forum in which we can enforce them. Some human rights can be enforced in the domestic courts of individual countries, but the world is getting smaller all the time. More and more crimes are being carried out across borders, and many of those crimes are becoming more serious in their extent, scope and inhumanity.

That is why it is our duty to do everything that we can to ensure that there is a tribunal available that has authority not only in our continent but throughout the world. Great Britain should take the lead.

I urge my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to ensure that this time my remarks are brought to the attention of the relevant Ministers, and that action is taken to ensure that an idea which I am certain would command wide support in this country if only people were aware of it, can make greater progress than it has done hitherto.

6.37 pm
Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

There is one more Conservative Back-Bench Member who wishes to speak, and as the Front-Bench spokemen want to sum up soon. I shall try to split the remaining time between us. I imagine that if I take five minutes that will not be too long.

I apologise to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for the theme of my speech, because you, more than anyone else, already know what I shall say. I have raised the issue in the House with growing momentum since the Report stage of the Bill that introduced the poll tax, because it was obvious that that would have some devastating consequences. We now have empirical evidence and details to show that that was true: the poll tax has seriously damaged electoral registration in this country.

A report by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys reveals that 1 million people are missing from the electoral register—2.5 per cent. of those entitled to be registered. That represents the equivalent of 21 parliamentary seats—more seats than exist in Northern Ireland, for example—having their entire electorate disappear. But there is no problem with the franchise in Northern Ireland, because it never had the poll tax. The register there is in a healthy state.

The worst deficiency in the register is in youngsters coming up to vote for the first time—those approaching 18, who are called "attainers". The attainer figures in Northern Ireland are healthier than they have ever been. They are worse than they have been in recent years in Scotland, in England and in Wales. They began to become worse first in Scotland where the poll tax was introduced. The House should be deeply concerned about that.

I make no apology to the House for raising the issue, because I think that we should take the matter seriously. It should not be left to me to raise the matter as if it were my bugbear. The Government expecially should take the matter seriously. It is appropriate to raise the subject on the Christmas Adjournment because we are approaching the time when there must be a general election. We still have some opportunity to try to do something about the disastrous situation.

We cannot put the electoral register right before a general election, but we can at least show that we are aware of the problem. Money spent on seeking to encourage electoral registration would be worth while. Advertising on television, in cinemas and on billboards to encourage people to register is of vast importance. There are about 350,000 expatriate voters on the register who have been encouraged by new legislation. We have spent £22.50 of public money for each voter who has been registered. For registration in this country on what is supposed to be the compulsory register, we have spent one tenth of a penny per person. We should spend considerably more.

There has been massive expenditure on all types of Government advertising, such as advertising for fancy employment schemes and for privatisation programmes. The money spent on advertising to encourage electoral registration amounted to 0.32 per cent. of the Government's total publicity expenditure.

The matter should seize us considerably. We are supposed to believe in democracy and in a full franchise, but those views are becoming dogma from the past. We repeat them without fully understanding them. The people who fought for the franchise through the Reform Acts of the 19th century and through the legislation that introduced votes for women in 1919 and 1928, which finally gave us a full franchise, understood the importance of people having a vote and a full say in decision making. It is now becoming a matter that should apply to Europe as a whole and to proper democratic federal structures in which the vote begins to mean something and is not neutralised by deals being done in secret by the Council of Ministers.

We must ensure that the franchise is correct. It would be bad enough if the franchise were being destroyed at random so that a cross-section of voting patterns was affected, but what is happening is worse. The poll tax has deterred from registration the people who have most to fear from its operation and who have the most reason to object to the Government. A fiddle is involved in the franchise.

The Leader of the House knows the matter well, because I have often raised it with him. I hope that he will tell us tonight that something is being done to overcome the problem and that legislation will be introduced which stipulates that the two registers are kept wholly separate from each other and that the present arrangement by which they are linked by computer will cease.

We introduced legislation to try to separate the census from poll tax provisions in the Census (Confidentiality) Bill. If something similar were produced for the operation of the poll tax, it would at least be a sign that things were being done. The council tax, which is the likely successor to the poll tax, will still require a register for local authorities.

6.44 pm
Mr. David Amess (Basildon)

Before the House adjourns for the Christmas recess, I wish to raise three points. Last week, Essex county council decided to give my constituents and their children a Christmas present by announcing in a sub-committee that it intended to close Fryerns secondary school. The announcement came as a bolt out of the blue. There was no consultation and there was not even the common courtesy of informing the local Member of Parliament. As ever, the local socialists were out next day delivering leaflets saying, "Save Fryerns school. Vote Labour." They play at politics; I intend to ensure that the school does not close. As long as I am Member of Parliament for Basildon, there will be no closure of schools in my constituency.

I have five children, which is not unusual for Basildon. In contrast to the rest of Essex, we have a growing population. The idea that the other six secondary schools could absorb the children from Fryerns schools is crazy. Over the past year, I have spent a lot of time working with the excellent headmaster, Mr. Slater, and his wonderful teaching staff. They offer the full range of the national curriculum, they concentrate on helping children who have special educational needs and they run an excellent adult education centre. We certainly need Fryerns school. I give Essex county council a warning. Fryerns school will not close and I intend to ensure that it does not close.

At my surgery on Saturday, I had a deputation from shopkeepers in Whitmore way. In Basildon, we have the largest covered shopping centre in Europe. It is an excellent shopping centre and I hope that people throughout the country will do their Christmas shopping in Basildon. One effect of the covered shopping centre has been that local traders have suffered to an extent. The Basildon development corporation and the Commission for New Towns have spent a huge amount of British taxpayers' money on the infrastructure in Basildon. There is, of course, a duty for the CNT to return some of that investment to the British taxpayer.

However, it came as a tremendous blow to the local shopkeepers when they recently received the rent review on the leases of their shops. Most of those people are small shopkeepers who have been in the town for 30 years. They have found that their rents have gone up by 50 or 75 per cent. That is not acceptable. Trading conditions over the past 18 months, as we all know, have not been favourable in the south. We need to help those small shopkeepers stay in business and the rent proposals are quite unacceptable.

Earlier this year, I tried to amend the Pet Animals Act 1951. I know that it may seem unpleasant to spoil children's fun at Christmas, but, extraordinarily, under the Act minors are allowed to go into pet shops without their parents' permission and to purchase all kinds of animals including dogs and exotic reptiles. I am delighted to say that the House gave my Bill an unopposed Second Reading. The Bill was referred to a Standing Committee, but we ran out of time.

I hope that the House will unite on the issue. We can then amend the 1951 Act so that any child who wishes to purchase a pet will have to have the permission of a parent or, better still, be accompanied by a parent. As the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals can testify, many pets are abandoned at Christmas time. Let us make this a happy Christmas for human beings and also for animals.

6.49 pm
Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin)

The debate on the Christmas Adjournment is always interesting. Hon. Members speak on a variety of subjects about which they feel strongly and on which they feel they are knowledgeable. However, it is an impossible debate to respond to. Therefore, I will not make much of an attempt to respond to it but instead will concentrate on a few issues that I believe it is appropriate to consider at this time of the year.

I am sure that hon. Members were concerned to hear the speech of the hon. Member for Newbury (Sir M. McNair-Wilson) about people infected with HIV. Several other contributions will also be worth reading.

I cannot possibly carry on without mentioning the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon). As a result of his position as deputy Chief Whip, he does not often have an opportunity to speak in the House. However, my word, I enjoyed his speech today. Perhaps we should alter the convention that deputy Chief Whips should not speak in the Chamber.

I apologise for not being able to respond to all the points that have been raised. I want instead to refer to two issues that have a holiday and seasonal flavour. The first is holidays, and in particular bank holidays, and the second is television, which is the nation's most popular entertainment during holiday periods and which, for reasons that I will spell out briefly, is facing tremendous problems not least as a result of the Broadcasting Act 1990.

As hon. Members will be aware, we will enjoy three bank holidays during the Christmas recess, two of which—Christmas day and new year's day—are common throughout the European Community. That is a basic standard of provision for workers throughout the Community. I am not sure whether the Government are hostile towards that harmonisation of holidays. Perhaps they feel that our competitiveness would improve if there were no holidays in this country or that investment would flow into this country if we ended those basic minimum standards of provision. However, even this Government must agree that it is not a bad idea to have some bank holidays. Mercifully, we will not have an opportunity to discover whether the Government want those privileges to be removed because the Conservatives will not be in office for much longer.

It is worth drawing attention to the fact that we have the worst provision of any European Community country in respect of national public holidays. We have only eight and we will be using up three of them in the next few weeks. Ireland and Holland have nine; Italy and Denmark have 10; Germany and France have 11; Luxembourg and Portugal have 12; and Belgium, Greece and Spain have 13. I cannot for the life of me understand why we should not have more public holidays in this country. I am a reasonable fellow, so I will not ask for 13 overnight. However, perhaps we should have 11, the average for the Community.

The bank holiday on 25 December will be the first bank holiday since 24 August. That is a huge gap. Almost every other country has at least one public national holiday between those dates. Only Denmark and Holland are the same as us in that respect. It is high time that we had a holiday between 24 August and 25 December. That is another harmonisation that I would be delighted to see developed. There would be no crisis of confidence in British industry if we had another holiday then. The Government talk about a crisis in confidence whenever we make any improvements in basic employment rights. There would be no flight of capital, so why not will the Government take a risk in that respect?

The other subject to which I want to refer which is oddly appropriate at Christmas time is the television industry and broadcasting in general. Whether we like it or not, television is the national recreation at Christmas time. The highest viewing figures always occur on Christmas day. The figures stagger me: 30 million of our fellow citizens will be watching television at peak time on Christmas day. The average person watches television for six hours on Christmas day. Over the last Christmas holiday period, an average of thirty-three hours of television were watched by our fellow citizens. That figure is much higher than for the rest of the year. I believe that the British television industry and British programmes produced by British television are the best in the world. It would be a sad day if we began to slide down the road towards American-style television. I should perhaps declare an interest as I once worked in the industry, but I have no financial involvement with the industry now.

Morale and confidence in the television industry are at an all-time low, largely as a direct and deliberate result of the Government. I do not often pray in aid the present and former Prime Ministers. However, we all know the former Prime Minister's view of what she did to the television industry via the Broadcasting Act 1990 and the ludicrous franchise round that followed. When TV-am was told that it could not continue to broadcast, she wrote a letter to Bruce Gyngell in which she said that she was "only too painfully aware" that she was responsible for the system and that she was "mystified and heartbroken" by what had happened. It is astonishing that anyone could respond like that to legislation for which her Government had been responsible.

Even the present Prime Minister announced in his usual ringing rhetorical tones, "I don't think it has been an optimum success." That was his description of what happened during the franchise round. What happened was absurd. Sixteen companies had to tender for the franchise by placing bids in sealed brown envelopes. On those bids depended the jobs, programme plans, hopes and careers of many people and, most fundamentally, the quality of the programmes that we see on our screens.

The results of the round were absurd. The most dramatic contrast involved Central Television, which I was delighted was able to beat the system. It received its franchise with a bid of £2,000 a year, while Yorkshire Television—a smaller company—bid £38 million a year. There are no winners or losers in such a situation. It was a farce of free enterprise and so-called market forces. The irony is that the franchise that went via market forces was TV-am, about which the former Prime Minister was most upset.

Of the 16 independent television companies, three went to the sole bidders; five went to the highest bidders—Anglia, Tyne Tees Television, HTV and a couple of others. Eight were awarded on so-called quality grounds; in other words, the franchise went, not to the highest bidder, but to one of the others.

The net result has been chaos and uncertainty in the ITV system and that is mirrored in many ways by fear and anxiety in the BBC. The BBC is deeply afraid of the plans that the Government—should they remain in office—have for it. I can reassure the BBC that none of those plans will come to fruition, but it is still very worrying for the people working at the BBC.

As a result of all the changes, about £100 million which was previously available for programme making will go to the Treasury through taxation, and that is bound to have an effect on programme quality.

I referred to the number of people who will watch television over the Christmas period, but I did not mention that much of that television material would be made by the BBC. About 150 hours of Christmas programming is made by British film editors, producers, production assistants, location managers, lighting engineers and sound engineers. All that expertise is in Britain, and it is under threat because of the Government's broadcasting lottery.

Conservative Members do not often get worked up about some matters, but I shall mention one about which they will get worked up. Another effect of the so-called free market on broadcasting is that, in the gloomy days of February when the world cup cricket series is being played in a sunny clime, because of a higher bid by British Satellite Broadcasting, we will not be able to see it on our television screens. The free market at work will ensure that most of our fellow citizens will not be able to watch it. I hope that plenty of constituents rightly complain about the operation of the free market on broadcasting.

Mr. Ward

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Grocott

I cannot give way, as I have only a minute left.

I should like to think that the Government would pay attention to those considerations, but I know that they will not do so. In a sense, that does not matter, because the Government will not be with us for much longer. The only reason why this Parliament is stumbling on is that the Government are waiting and hoping that something will turn up. There is no raison d'etre left for this Parliament. It has no functions of substance left to perform. The Government have no mandate left to fulfil. As we all know, it is simply a matter of the Prime Minister checking the opinion polls and hoping desperately that three or four in succession will show a slim lead for him. As soon as that happens, Parliament will be dissolved. The sooner that happens, the better.

7.1 pm

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons Mr. John MacGregor)

Unlike the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott), I do not have the luxury of not being able to respond to the debate. As always, many interesting and often detailed points have been raised. I try to keep abreast of most issues of policy, but I cannot cover every detail of what happens in constituencies. As usual, there has been a fair amount of telephoning to Departments during the debate. If I do not manage to cover all the points in the short time available to me, I will certainly draw Members' comments to the attention of my appropriate right hon. Friend.

My hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Sir J. Stokes), with his characteristic courtesy, warned me that he could not stay for the end of the debate. However, I must comment on his speech. As always, my hon. Friend spoke for England, which makes me wonder how appropriate it is for a Scotsman to reply to his comments. However, as I have represented an English seat for nearly 18 years, I can say that we would be sad if we did not hear his voice and sentiments.

My hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge paid tribute to the armed forces. As recent conflicts have shown, the benefits of their discipline, courage, training and professionalism have been very evident. He also commented on the effect of progressive methods in education. He had in mind some of the heavy emphasis on child-centred education in primary schools. He will know that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science and I have been concerned about such matters and have been trying to obtain a different approach in some of our primary schools.

My hon. Friend was a little off balance today in the picture that he painted. He might have pointed out that there are many outstanding teachers and clergymen, and a huge improvement in British management. In the 1970s, there was constant interference by the Government and difficult industrial relations which prevented managers from managing. We must contrast that with the position today: many British firms are performing extremely well, not least in export markets. I hope that he will agree that, over the past 10 years, there has been a huge improvement rather than the reverse.

My hon. Friend also referred to the competitive world in which we live. I could not agree more. In training, which is a vital part of the performance of British industry, we have seen a two and a half times increase in real terms in Government expenditure on training, and, of course, a massive £20 billion emphasis on training and expenditure on training by British industry. I am pleased that that training priority has been maintained throughout the past year.

The hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon) made a rare but very welcome contribution to the debate. It was an understandable intervention. It was sad that it had to be about such a tragic accident. I am sure that the whole House would wish to offer its sincere condolences to Mr. and Mrs. Mohamed on the loss of their daughter. I understand that the authorities concerned—British Rail and the South Tyneside metropolitan borough council—are pursuing the provision of an alternative access road to land on the south side of Harrison farm crossing with a view to closing the crossing. The hon. Gentleman emphasised that he wanted a public apology from British Rail for some of the comments that he quoted from local newspapers. Of course, I will refer his comments to the chairman of British Rail, and Iwill do that straight after the debate.

The hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) spoke very movingly about what happens in Northern Ireland, particularly in relation to our sentiments as we move towards the Christmas period. All hon. Members share his view about Mr. Hill and hope that he will recover. We share absolutely the abhorrence of terrorist activities to which he referred. I join him in his tribute to the business men of Northern Ireland for their resilience and determination. The hon. Gentleman knows well that the Government remain absolutely committed to bringing terrorism to a permanent end.

The right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) raised a couple of points, one of which was about homelessness in Manchester. He will know of the considerable sums of money—

Mr. Alfred Morris

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. MacGregor

I cannot give way at all.

Mr. Morris

It was not only about Manchester.

Mr. MacGregor

The right hon. Gentleman referred to Manchester. I cannot give way, because I must be fair to all hon. Members.

I was about to say that, with reference to homelessness, the right hon. Gentleman will know that the concentration is very much on London, because many people come to London for a variety of reasons. He will be aware that there has been a considerable increase in the provision available to the homeless. About £100 million over three years is being spent on that issue because of the heavy concentration of the problem in London.

In respect of areas outside London, where concentrations of rough sleepers are comparatively small, the Government expect individual local authorities to make emergency provision for people sleeping out in their areas. The right hon. Gentleman will know that the Government provide funding for voluntary organisations concerned with homelessness throughout the country. Grants totalling £4.5 million have been given in the current financial year to 93 voluntary organisations in England, which involves an increase of about 30 per cent. in expenditure. I have in front of me the names of the three organisations in Manchester which are currently receivilng support.

Another important point is that much housing stock in Manchester—6.5 per cent. of homes—is currently empty. Action on that front by local authorities is a way of dealing with the problem. There are points that I could make about repossessions, but, in view of the time, I must move on.

The right hon. Gentleman asked particularly for answers to some factual questions that he raised with my hon. Friend the Minister for Health. I have been endeavouring to obtain answers in the short time available since the right hon. Gentleman spoke, and I regret to say that I cannot supply the figures that he requires. However, he will know that the Government expect local authorities to be well aware of their legal responsibilities under the 1970 legislation and to ensure that their policies and practices comply with it. The Government have powers to intervene in alleged cases of default, and will not hesitate to do so if necessary.

My hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Sir M. McNair-Wilson) made a most moving speech. We understand not only his tremendous interest in such matters but his outstanding concern. His point has been substantially considered already and raised on many occasions in the House. I have great sympathy with the plight of those who have been infected with HIV as a result of blood transfusion.

As my hon. Friend knows—this will disappoint him —the House has only recently decided that it does not support the principle of no-fault compensation for medical accidents. I say "disappointed" because that point has already been made to him in the context of that case. It is widely accepted that the haemophiliacs are a special case, and the Government have acted accordingly. However, we have not been convinced that the blood transfusion recipients who have been infected by HIV are a similar special case, but we would consider any new arguments that might be made. As my hon. Friend requested—this was his precise point to me—I shall certainly draw his comments to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton), who has also advised me that he cannot be present for the close of the debate, raised the question of the recognition of Croatia. As he will know, considerable efforts are being made to try to achieve a lasting ceasefire in Yugoslavia and my noble Friend Lord Carrington has been unceasing in his efforts, as has the European Community. In addition, Mr. Cyrus Vance has only recently returned from a visit to Yugoslavia. I understand that his report to the United Nations will be issued today.

We shall continue actively to explore the possibility of United Nations involvement. However, recognition would not stop the fighting. The Serbs could be provoked to tighten their grip on the areas of Croatia that they now hold. Recognition now, without any agreement on such issues as minorities, could be a recipe for chaos. The southern republics might also seek independence, and fighting could spread to them. Although there are difficulties, the hon. Gentleman can rest assured that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has been taking the closest interest in all the peacekeeping efforts.

My hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr. Ward) raised two matters. The first related to foam-filled furniture, an issue in which I recall being involved when I served at the Department of Trade and Industry. As my hon. Friend knows, the United Kingdom supports the introduction of the European directive that will provide a level of fire protection that is commensurate with the requirements of our furniture regulations. However, the Commission's former proposals were not acceptable because they would have resulted in a lower level of safety requirements than we already have. They would not have provided any protection against the toxic effects of foam fillings. We have made it clear to the Commission that the United Kingdom will retain its regulations until a satisfactory regime is available under the directive. I assure my hon. Friend that we shall continue to pursue that point.

My hon. Friend's second point related to animal welfare. He is absolutely right to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. When I held that post, I put a lot of effort into animal welfare issues and into trying to ensure that the Community sought to achieve similar high standards to our own. My hon. Friend referred especially to the new directives on pigs and calves. They do not satisfy the necessary basic welfare requirements that are provided for in our legislation. That is why we voted against them. I assure my hon. Friend that we shall continue to press for the Commission's reviews to be completed as soon as possible.

The hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) raised a detailed case relating to fair employment tribunals. It would be wrong for me to comment on a tribunal decision. The hon. Gentleman knows that the Fair Employment Commission is independent of Government. However, I shall certainly draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who will bear them in mind. I can advise the hon. Gentleman immediately, however, that there is nothing wrong with the display of the Union flag or royal portraits in appropriate locations and circumstances. I have already referred to the difficulty of making statements next week, so I cannot promise the hon. Gentleman one then but, as I have said, I shall ensure that his remarks are drawn to the attention of my right hon. Friend.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. French) spoke interestingly and with much knowledge on the subject of uninsured drivers. I shall draw his suggestion about the introduction of insurance discs to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.

I advise the hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) that the Community funds for butter aid allow for considerable expenditure in this country. About £43 million-worth of surplus produce has been distributed in the past three years, and we rely on the voluntary organisations to carry out that distribution. This year we have designated 774 organisations as potential participants, which is way up on the number designated last year. That is why there must be rules. Although I greatly sympathise with the hon. Lady's constituent, I do not know of the individual circumstances to which she referred.

I have only one comment to make about the closing remarks of the hon. Member for The Wrekin. There are plenty of raisons d'etre for the House to continue with this Session, because we have plenty of work to do. His comments totally ignored the fundamentally important outcome of the Maastricht negotiations and the importance of the fact that it was my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary who undertook those negotiations, not his right hon. Friends, as the country has widely recognised. That is why the country will want my right hon. Friends to lead Britain into the 1990s and beyond.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House at its rising on Friday 20th December do adjourn until Monday 13th January 1992.